Here is a short first draft excerpt for a manuscript I’m working on. The pending title is ‘Payout’. No cover for it yet:
“Stop!” a voice cried out. Flashlights blared to life behind him in pursuit.
Fat chance, he wanted to say, except he had to save his breath for running.
Multiple bursts of light brightened the night sky briefly making him turn to see if a car followed so soon. Shadows played havoc with his eyes as he ran away. Projectiles shot out from the doorway the man just left straight at him. A Burning sensation across his back was the only warning he got before ducking at the last minute, letting the red and yellow warmth from the missile’s propellant singe hair up the back of his neck. The missile exploded unlike anything he had ever witnessed on TV or in person. The impact melted the brick after a ferocious flash, lightning without thunder. The man, too scared to do anything else, picked up his feet and ran faster for the alley ahead.
The alley’s normally narrow pathway, fitting a single dump truck or passenger car down its trash-filled roads with not much room to spare gave little cover for him. Puddles splashed underfoot from the recent rainfall. Not every place the light touched asphalt reflected his image in the wet patches or with shadows cast by the full moon. Trash and empty cardboard boxes made it hard to stay in the building’s shadowy embrace. He had nowhere to hide. The man moved between the inky silhouettes cast by the ambient glow of upper apartment windows, in hopes he was wrong about finding somewhere to conceal himself. What a mess this turned out to be, he battered himself thinking. If he lived he wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
It all went back to the only time he chose to live life on a single impulse, which he never did and would not again. News came down the grapevine about a big job coming up that could set him up for life. It originated from an unknown source, but the guy passing it on he knew and trusted. A simple snatch-and-grab was the way his buddy put it.
# # #
“I tell you Joe, it sounds fishy, but my source is as good as any out there. Never steered me wrong,” Sam said in hushed tones keeping the conversation between them as much as the bar allowed.
Joe scratched his head wondering if it could be as legit as Sam said it was. “Do I know the guy?”
“No. He and I go way back, I can trust him. Names weren’t given for who’s fronting the money, however, he did tell me it came from a high roller,” he searched the room skittishly from the sound of water glasses crashing to the floor by a clumsy busboy before turning back. The look Sam had spooked him a little. He wasn’t so sure Sam was being forthcoming with all the details.
Reconsidering, almost feeling pulled forward to the decision, “I’ll take your word for it. Send back that I’ll do it.” He couldn’t reason out why the words rolled off his tongue so easily. He was not known to be this spontaneous. But that’s how it all started.
# # #
He should have kept to himself, working the sure bets instead of taking the job tonight. He always took extra care to check out the jobs before signing on as a precaution to his well-being. He never got the chance. The night air held promise of a heavy down pour. He hated working under the cover of rain; always leaves a wet trail for anyone to follow in the dry confines of a heist.
Joe came to loathe the idea of doing this job. Repeated calls from the employer, hassles from the “partners” about not stepping here or there without giving up why they knew this, and waiting for someone else’s timetable became unbearable. Keeping the employer’s name in the dark was just good business. It bothered Joe to no end still not knowing his or her name this far into the game. In his line of work knowing who was flipping the bill meant getting a callback for another job or jail time from working with an undercover agent. Not the best scenario for getting the job done.
Another reason stood out, two other people got hired on. There would be partners joining and no room for negotiation. He worked alone most of the time, limiting the hands digging in his pockets for a cut. Plus, alarms tended to get tripped when too many feet were involved. These partners of his were said to be knowledgeable about the item they needed to find. Joe wanted to know what the object looked like. That would help, he thought. His employer refused to describe it over the phone. Just rely on your help for that, his boss told him. Unlikely, but where was the choice.
The location was not given until the last minute. Nothing went his way after the first meeting. They were going in for an object kept at random locations for safe keeping. Again he wasn’t given a choice, not even on how to complete the job. Had he been in control, everything might have went smoother.
They just had to break into the store and snatch the pocket-sized object, removed some other items to cover up what was really taken, and hightail it. Simple, except not knowing beforehand what the layout looked like. Everything had been orchestrated on the onset with phone conversations replacing face-to-face contact. Joe still didn’t really know who he worked for after a few meetings. Phone numbers used by Joe’s employer all came up untraceable. He wished he never heard of the mysterious object, let alone the job. Now he ran, the enlightened pair his employer brought in never made it past the door of the store.
An unassuming enough looking necklace sat tucked in his pocket as he ran. What happened back there did not seem natural. No laser light show he knew of could do the things he witnessed. Their flesh seared away by inches at a time when they tried to get away. The bluish flash that came with it didn’t seem right either. It all made no sense to him. Scared him so bad he didn’t look back until clearing the doorjamb. He wished he hadn’t now. What happened to those poor guys won’t ever leave his memory now. There wasn’t any looking back now.
Skirting across the pools of light with the smallest parts of him breaking the invisible plane between light and dark should have helped Joe evade the people from the store; his pursuers’ were still hot on the trail. Flashlights flared down the alley after him shining off brick walls in jagged movements. Headlights flashed past the entrance of the alley less than fifty feet away. If he could make it clear into the street Joe might lose them in the crowded sidewalks.
Burning sensations ran down his leg where the necklace rested, feeling nearly white hot against his skin. He was too afraid to look down, wasting valuable time and possibly tripping over any unseen objects by doing it. Right when his feet touched the sidewalk a voice called to him. Joe Brinston.
It said his name, intense pain growing from the necklace forgotten. No one on this job knew his real name just in case someone was caught in the act and ratted the accomplices out to the cops. The people behind him surely couldn’t know it.
An odd feeling came over him to turn back, turn around from where he just came from. It was so strong Joe almost listened to the siren’s calling. He was pretty sure not a single one of them was female, but the voice he heard could be no other.
Momentarily distracted by the sounds of a woman calling might have been the intent of the people chasing him. Maybe one of them had a high-pitched voice mimicking a woman to cause him pause. That didn’t explain his name being called out. Rolling fear taking over he bolted from the alley into a sea of people. The theater had just let out giving him cover one could only wish for. Cover at last and her voice stopped calling to him.
Joe didn’t waste any time thinking. He dove for the next unlit alley a few streets down and ran the center of it as fast as he could. If it had not rained earlier he might have been able to run faster, so staying on the side of caution Joe kept to a jogging pace praying it was fast enough to lose them. Slowing to a walk Joe took the chance to look back feeling safe of further pursuit. Sure enough, the chase was over. This street he’d cut back to had less businesses tailored to the night crowd as the other street had been.
Doubling back now might bring him face-to-face with the people he had swiped the necklace from. Better to continue cutting down alleys, sidestepping the main streets, before heading back to the car. Joe took the good fortune of being the driver tonight for what it was worth. If one of the others drove, walking would be the only alternative and it was a long way to go. There wasn’t anyone he trusted enough to call for a pickup.
Now, more than any other night, left Joe disbelieving he could trust a soul with what happened; not even his closest friends. The necklace nagged at him from the interior of the pocket. Such a big payout for a chain with some kind of ridiculous pendant hanging on it, Joe didn’t dare pull it out to inspect it. Here in the open where anyone could see it and possibly remember him carrying it so close to where he stole it. Thoughts drifted in and out as he walked slowly down the street. The car was up ahead parked out of reach of any street lamp keeping the car mostly in darkness, secluded from other cars parked in the security of light.
Joe fished out his keys with a watchful eye scanning the curbside for anyone following. His hand brushed up against the necklace searching for them sending a cold blast up his forearm. Chills raced throughout his body. That infernal pendant, Joe hissed in his head at the pain.
Joe’s steps staggered as he tried to control the shivering that necklace caused. First it got so hot he thought it would burn right out of the pocket and now Antarctica would be a warm place compared to touching this thing again. Without knowing what it was Joe could see why the payout was so much. There was something unique about the necklace making it seem priceless no matter the simplicity of the design. Unlocking the car door while shaking from the cold left by the necklace’s touch, he dropped into the seat and cranked the engine up before getting the door closed. Putting the heater on high didn’t seem enough to ward off the cold. At the same moment he thought about the cold, the point under the necklace touching skin carried warmth now. He took the chance to retrieve the pendant and immediately dumped it in the glove box. At least there wouldn’t be any more of those freaky happenings if he couldn’t touch it.
More relieved to be rid of the thing, thoughts wandered back to what happened at the store. Throwing his head back against the headrest and closing his eyes to the world, Joe tried to recall what happened from the safety of the car. It’s not something I want to remember but what I saw must not have been real, his head reeled from seeing again the blue flash of light disintegrate his partners.
Everything was moving so fast adrenaline spiked in him at the mere thought of how close he came to being like the others. That stuff came out of nowhere like magic. It was hard to believe! After they entered the room where the necklace had been, a search for surveillance equipment gave them nothing at all. Nothing on the property had the slightest appearance of high-tech besides the magnetic alarm strips set on the windows and doors. Even a first time thief knew how to pull a heist this simple, but Joe had missed something. Security cameras tucked away or motion sensors must have been hidden from sight.
How else do you explain a quick lockdown of the premises as it happened there? Joe began to feel exposed sitting in the car still too close to the building he just robbed. Turning the keys in the ignition with a satisfying rumble from the engine, he checked the street for flashlights before pulling away. Put the past behind him he always said. Forget what went on and focus on the prize. Joe would make the call in the morning to the contact to exchange the pendant for cash. It was all that was left.
The voice came back. He sat in a car driving with the windows rolled up. This day just gets better, Joe repeated to himself several times.
Faint streamers of light emitted from the glove box as he heard the woman again, Joe.
The disembodied voice echoed through his head. Refusing to enter the highway while some woman called out his name, he pulled up to the curb under the overpass. Hands shook when he let go of the steering wheel. The events of the day just got worse. He was delusional. Joe hoped to God this job paid out like he was told. How could he continue if melting walls, disintegrated bodies, and phantom voices plagued him?
From the outside of the car, the inside looked like an overhead light was turned on to read a map. Inside the car Joe pulled on the door handle until it broke off, windows didn’t roll down. He screamed at the top of his lungs. He knew the end must be near.